I guess the midterms are starting early. Articles in the Washington Post and Roll Call report on the president’s focus on winning back control of the House of Representatives. Both articles treat this as a highly risky strategy. It’s straight-up concern trolling.
They act like this is some kind of unprecedented thing, the president wanting his party to control Congress. But it’s only unusual for a second-term president to fight for control of Congress because the sample size is so small. In 2006, President Bush faced his second midterm election and he was battling to retain control of both chambers. He lost. In 1998, Bill Clinton faced his second midterm election, but he was more concerned with his looming impeachment trial. He won both the trial and the midterms, but it didn’t change the Republican control of either chamber. In 1986, Ronald Reagan faced his second midterm and he was dealing with the Iran-Contra affair. He lost control of the Senate and faced Democratic opposition in both chambers for the rest of his presidency. In 1974, Nixon had resigned before his second midterm. Lyndon Johnson only had one midterm election, as did John F. Kennedy. So, in the last fifty years, we have never had a situation where the president was in an analogous situation.
Another thing I see in print a lot is the idea that second-term presidents only have a brief period to do anything before they become lame-ducks. Again, the sample size is so small that this is meaningless. Insofar as we can talk about LBJ as a two-term president, his second term was ruined by Vietnam. Nixon’s by Watergate. Reagan’s by Iran-Contra. Clinton’s by Linda Tripp. Bush Jr.’s by the war in Iraq. If you want to predict that Obama will make a similar blunder, you’re welcome to play Nostradamus, but it doesn’t look likely right now.
What’s unprecedented is the situation we are in in this country, where a minority party simply insists on its agenda with no compromises or concessions. In this situation, it’s either civil war or the midterms start early.
I’ll opt for the latter.